Social Interventions: Special Needs Programming

Special needs often go unaddressed in schools and communities, with consequences which can include later criminality.

One in 10 Canadians has a learning disability. That's three million people. But only 3% of school-aged children with learning disabilities receive special services within their schools.1


Research shows that 30% to 70% of young offenders and inmates have experienced learning problems. And almost 50% of adolescent suicides had previously been diagnosed with learning disabilities.2

In the past two decades, the link between learning disabilities and delinquent behaviour has been examined and confirmed in both Canada and United States.3

And the negative effects persist into adulthood. Adults with learning disabilities, who have not received appropriate education or training, typically hold a job for only three months – putting them at much greater risk for criminal involvement.4

Persistent delinquents commonly suffer from cognitive, educational and attention deficits, and they often have hyperactivity disorders. These youth tend to become easily bored and frustrated. They tend to react emotionally, rather than logically, and they are attracted to high-risk activities. If they do not receive the help they need, they are likely to encounter difficulties in coping with their home, school and work environments, and they are at higher risk of coming into conflict with the law as a result.5

Some of these problems can be prevented with the earliest possible intervention – while the child is still in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is one of the leading causes of learning and behavioural problems which put youth at increased risk of coming into conflict with the law.6 And FAS is completely preventable by ensuring that women do not abuse alcohol during pregnancy. There are many programs across Canada which educate mothers-to-be about FAS and help to support them in making the right decisions during their pregnancy.

Special needs can also be addressed in schools and communities as children grow up. But a CCSD survey of 112 Canadian agencies found that children and youth with special needs were not being adequately served. Children with mental health problems and those with behavioural difficulties were observed to be the worst off.7

Between 1997 and 2002 in Ontario, a significant proportion of schools lost their specialized teaching staff. As a result, waiting lists for special education increased by 14% over that period and there was a serious decline in students' access to other professional help services.8

Clearly, there is a demand for special needs resources, and these resources would help decrease the risks of later criminality. The resources would also increase the immediate well-being of the youth affected and enhance their eventual social contribution.

Research shows that interventions at all stages of youthful development can make a big difference. The earlier special needs are addressed, the greater the results will be. A number of interventions at the preschool level are proving to be very helpful. For more details on these initiatives, see the Early Childhood Education section of this subsite.

Other Social Interventions

  Addictions Treatment
  Countering Violence
  Early Childhood Education
  Positive Parenting
  Secondary Education


1Child and Family Canada. Fact Sheet: Statistics on Learning Disabilities. See


3 Ibid.


5Waller, I. and Weiler, D. Crime Prevention through Social Development. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 1984.

6Boland, Fred J. et al. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Implications for the Correctional Service. Ottawa: Correctional Service Canada, 1998. See

7Hanvey, Louise. The Progress of Canada's Children 2002. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 2002. See